*Warning: salty language ahead.
I shuffled my weight back and forth, from left to right uncomfortably in front of hundreds of yoga students scattered in the soft, green grass.
There was an orange and fuchsia glow from the setting sun grazing across their cheekbones, it offered a warmth and familiarity to them. This was my annual fundraiser for sexual assault services for women—still, oddly enough, I hadn’t realized yet my intrinsic connection to the event at that point.
I proceeded to ground them before the movement of the class was to begin, but really I was desperately trying to ground myself as the trembling through my body reminded me ever so gently that I am leading this class, fuck, I am leading these people. Me. This is my job. I have to do this. I am being counted on.
My opening words always speak the same truth in slightly different linguistics for every class I teach whether it be to eight students, or that day, hundreds. And so, I began:
“Thank you for being here, your time is the most valuable asset you have and for you to offer it to me, is an honor. Now just be here, exist right here right now with no obligations, no responsibilities, no labels, no one counting on you. You are not a size, an age, an employee, a caretaker, or a decision you made, you are only human, a fragile imperfect human. Let go of everything that happened on your way here, in your day, and everything you’re worried about in your life for right now—from as mundane as the laundry pile to as significant of where your next meal will come from.
You have little control over anything in life except your emotions and right now is your hour. Let the ground absorb your stress and decide if it’s worth it to pick it back up when you leave. You showed up for a reason. For one hour where you are responsible for nothing but your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Get into your body, get out of your head, and get curious about what comes up in between.”
I had gone to therapy for years to find the tools to deal, accept, and learn from my own rape—but to actually discuss it beyond the confines of my therapist’s room, I hadn’t ever fathomed it; there was still shame. Deep fucking shame. I was damaged, that one thing defined me still, I had decided it defined me.
Yet, a tremendously powerful woman, and now a good friend of mine, was fearlessly unapologetic with her rape story when she spoke to a room full of people about it months earlier, her voice, her tone, her glossy pink lipstick rang in my head “secrets make you sick.”
It was a profound and moving moment for me, I hadn’t realized the depth of it until right then on that stage, I hadn’t realized why I had I had been so drawn to fundraising thousands of dollars for sexual assault survivors until then, but she planted a seed and it grew into an oak tree and everything suddenly made sense. Standing on that stage, in front of strangers and students who had donated hard-earned money to do yoga in the park with me.
I can write, wow can I express through written word (case in point this right here), but to voice something, to actually speak it? Not so great at that, fight, flight, or freeze. I’m a freezer…with a lock on it; however I am also simultaneously a work in progress, so I am working on the introverted speaking thing, promise.
I spoke and it didn’t make me sick. It just came out of my mouth:
“I am a rape survivor. My innocence and humanity was violated in the worst of ways. I am not ashamed of this, nor should anyone be. I was a victim to a monster but I triumphed anyway. If you are not a rape survivor, you know someone who is. This is when you send that healing energy to them, you get on your mat, and you create a heart song and you send it to them. Send them that love. Send yourself love.”
That whole scene was a couple of years ago and yet it seems like yesterday. I can still smell the air and hear her unapologetic voice echoing in my ears and feel my cold feet on the band shell floor in the downtown park. Since then, I’ve been more open with my rape story and open to anyone who needed me to hold their space.
The shame is lifted. It moved from one space of my body to a place in my brain where I am not raw, as if it happened to someone I know, but we are not the same person anymore. Or so I thought.
A few months ago, I was triggered by an abusive situation and anxiety returned. Deep anger, my trust violated, my vulnerability abused, my intuition completely manipulated. I had a panic attack for the first time in more than 10 years and my best friend collapsed onto her kitchen floor with me, holding me and urging me to breathe. I gasped for air while tears streamed down my face violently. Mostly, I was panicking because I had failed myself. I was losing at being love, kindness, and light. My physical health had declined and kidney issues hospitalized me, I had disconnected with my body and my mind so much and I refused to ask for help because “I was stronger than that.”
I would tell any one of my best friends or students, “For fuck’s sake you’re trying! I see you, this is hard, life is hard. Mental health issues are normal, real, and we need to talk about them more.”
However the self-talk that happened was so different: “You, Paula. You are not allowed to be mad, or hurt, or have a bad moment when painful words leak out, you are not allowed to scream like hell, you are not worthy, you did this to yourself. You are not allowed to feel this way. You are not allowed to be broken. You have too much good in your life, too much to do, and too many people to care for, to show up for, you are counted on! Move on, get up, boss up. You have a higher purpose, oh and the tagline…everything happens for a reason. You preach this shit. Come on woman. Grow some balls. Detach.”
I have realized no matter how much you think you’ve dealt with, coped with, or created space for it to dissipate, triggers for post-traumatic situations will reappear like a gun wound you didn’t know you still had, and it will happen at a time when you are least prepared to deal with it, when you’re vulnerable.
It’s absurd, I know this logically but my PTSD was triggered in full force sepsis. Years of counselling, hours on the yoga mat, hours in love and joy with my immaculate children, laughter with my best friends, seminars and classes, on my runs, in my 4 a.m. kayak rides to the cows singing across the river, and endless dog walks with my confidant Batman, and all the journaling, meditations, and self-work—but still a little shake from the universe brought the ache of the unmentionable abuse, more than 20 years ago back, and punched me right in the gut.
Messy discovery reminds us, in desperate moments of pain, about the fragility of being human. Triggers will send you flailing into the abyss like a whore on a mission to convince you that you aren’t good enough to take up any space. But you can triumph. You can.
Trauma may not be your fault but it is your responsibility to heal it. I am blessed with so much good love, the best people, and an amazing support system—and to those who picked me up off the floor, thank you.
I’m better now, thankfully far more aware of things then I was when I was raped at 13. And now I am filled with an arsenal of tools to heal the wound. I am capable, strong, supported, and I held it together, I did.
I was a successful business owner, a stellar mom, an incredible friend but behind closed doors…It wasn’t the most beautiful of months, but I got my hands dirty and faced the monster and now looking back at pre-summer me, I barely recognize her.
If I have learned anything through this, it’s to show up authentically, not to compromise, and not run away from the pain. But to call it what it is and feel every miserable stab of it. Every day I become more aware, every day I get better than I ever was before. Every day I do the work. I am beautifully broken but filled with so much self-love and compassion and not afraid to say it.
I share my story so that you know you’re not alone. I am the face of PTSD, I am the face of a human healing. I carry no shame, I am not afraid of the truth:
“Thank you for being here, your time is the most valuable asset you have and for you to offer it to me, is an honor. Now just be here, exist right here right now with no obligations, no responsibilities, no labels, no one counting on you. You are not a size, an age, an employee, a caretaker, or a decision you made, you are only human, a fragile imperfect human.
Let go of everything that happened on your way here, in your day, and everything you’re worried about in your life for right now—from as mundane as the laundry pile to as significant of where your next meal will come from.
You have very little control over anything in life except your emotions and right now is your hour to not think about it. Let the ground absorb your stress and decide if it’s worth it to pick it back up when you leave.
You showed up for a reason, for one hour where you are responsible for nothing but your physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness. Get into your body, get out of your head, and get curious about what comes up in between.”